My mother left me at the crisis center after giving me a kiss I did not return. Based on what she told the staff, along with the gruesome nail marks on her face as evidence, I was soon transported to a local mental hospital where I was to be further assessed. Depending on what I said while I was there, I could be there for just a few days or a lot longer.
While there, I was allowed to wear my own clothes, except for my shoes. They gave me slipper socks. Maybe because you can’t be too dangerous when you’re slipping along a waxed floor. The food was terrible. The bed I slept in had springs that jabbed into me, but I actually slept okay while I was there, especially in the afternoon. I napped anytime I was allowed to.
During my stay there, I didn’t say much about the woman in the window, only enough to be accommodating. I stayed away from saying the things I knew I shouldn’t say – like the woman in the window is real – that was easy to figure out. I kept my story simple. I had been sick, sleep-deprived, and a fevered dream had caused me to lose a momentary grasp on reality, which is why I had attacked my mother. And I was all better now because I had found reality again. It was so silly of me to have misplaced it, and I promised never to do so again.
Sometimes my therapist lady, Courtney, she’d ask more specific questions about the woman in the window, especially about the times I had actually seen her in my home (my mother hold told them about the police visit and the bite on the finger). But it felt like a trap. So I explained, “The woman in the window is in the dream but some of the dreams just feel so real that it feels real, like a dream that’s real but not but it’s so real that it feels real but isn’t because it’s a dream you know those dreams where it’s super real but they’re really not.” Yeah, it confused her, which is what I was going for. Courtney would say, “uh-huh,” and jot down a few notes. Then she’d ask me about my childhood, like there was something else to figure out about me. When she asked about my dad, I refused to say anything at all.
On the first day there, I participated in a group session, I was surrounded by other girls. They were close to my age and each of them had a reason to be there. One girl had driven her mom’s car into her boyfriend’s house. Another had tried to kill herself with pills. One girl had twenty make-believe friends, some that tried to get her to hurt herself, and some that hurt each other. Some hallucinated. Some heard things. Voices. When it was my turn to introduce myself, which mostly meant talking about the reason I was there, most of the girls were sympathetic. I liked that. I was in a place for crazy people, so I wasn’t crazy anymore.
After the group session, it was recreation time. A girl named Katrina introduced herself and asked if I wanted to play a game. We sat at a table, the legs of which were screwed into the floor, and played Connect Four. We plopped the disks in randomly, not caring about the actual game. While we played, Katrina told me about Billy Bob.
Billy Bob had been haunting her for years. He lived in the corner of her room, standing next to her Hannah Montana poster. Billy Bob wore a suit and tie. He had a pale face and a smile that never changed, and he always stared straight ahead, never moving his eyes. Never blinking.
Katrina told me that the woman in the window reminded her of Billy Bob because he just came out of nowhere, and while everyone in her life said that Billy Bob was a figment of her imagination, he wasn’t. Billy Bob brought nightmares, except he wasn’t in the nightmares himself. The nightmares got worse and worse. She explained, “One night, I dreamt I killed my family. When I woke from the dream, I was covered in blood and my brother’s head was between my legs. Then I woke up again, because that had been a dream too. Billy Bob was in the corner, staring ahead like always. I never talked to him before, but when I asked if the dream would come true, he turned his eyes towards me and nodded. So, I tried to kill myself. Didn’t work though. My mom saved me. And so, here I am.”
“How long have you been here?” I asked.
“Almost six months.”
I couldn’t believe it. “Really? Why so long?”
She laughed. “Guess I’m that crazy.”
Katrina showed me her arms. She had thick scars on both wrists, pale and fresh, standing out from her dark skin. She had tried quite a few different times.
“I’m sorry.” It was all I could say.
“I’m sorry for you too.”
“That’s such a goofy name for someone who’s so creepy. Billy Bob, I mean.”
Katrina laughed a little. “I named him.”
“You named him?” I laughed a little myself.
“I was a lot younger when he first showed up. My mother asked me what I had seen. While I tried to explain what he was like, that name popped right out of my mouth.”
“It’s all so weird,” I said. “Our little worlds.”
“Girl, you know that’s right.”
Katrina and I spent the rest of recreation talking about things that had nothing to do with Billy Bob or the woman in the window. During those seven days I spent there, Katrina and I hung out as much as we could. But by day four, there were sounds at my window at night. And on day six, I saw the woman in the window walking down the hall.
On the seventh day, it was time for me to be discharged. The hospital didn’t have enough reason to keep me. When I was about to leave, Katrina asked me to think about her from time to time. I promised I would. We hugged. I was sad to leave her. She was sad to see me go.
My mom was there, smiling uncomfortably in the waiting area, like she wasn’t sure how I’d react to seeing her. When she tried to hug me, I walked past and went to the car. On the drive home, the world passed by at a distance, like everything was being viewed through binoculars. By the time we were pulling into the driveway, I was resigned to my fate, knowing that the woman in the window would probably return that night, more excited to see me than my own mother had been.
Out of nowhere, I blurted out, “I love you, Mom.”
The barrier of awkwardness between us crumbled. My mom filled the car with promises that she loved me, that she didn’t want to do what she had done by having my hospitalized, and we were going to get through this together. Her and I.
I said, “I know.” But I knew that wasn’t true.
Despite getting some rest at the hospital, exhaustion ruined me as I stepped into the kitchen. I walked aimlessly around the counter, scheming a way to avoid going upstairs, even though I had to put away my things and my mother would ask. As I meandered near the fridge, I noticed on the calendar: Treatment Place 4:00pm. I asked “What’s the Treatment Place?”
“Oh, that’s for your follow-up appointment. The hospital scheduled it for us.”
“You know, for your assessment.”
“No, I don’t know,” I said. “What assessment?”
“They didn’t tell you?” my mother asked, surprised.
“No. And if they did, I must not have been listening.”
“Well, you should listen more carefully, Sarah. You’re seventeen years old.”
“You’re right, I should listen more carefully when I spend time at the mental hospital, because you know, I’ll probably end up there a few times every year. I made a friend there, Katrina, and she’s been there four times and she’s only sixteen.”
“Please, don’t talk like that.”
“What? That’s what you’re thinking.”
“I didn’t say that, Sarah.”
“You didn’t have to, Mom.”
“Well, your therapist, Courtney, she said it would be good for you to get checked by a local mental health provider, and maybe enroll you for services.”
“Enroll me for services? You mean, like a therapist or whatever. Like a regular one.” I could imagine all the new rumors at school.
“Yes. Sarah, we have to start somewhere.”
I thought about it. “Okay.”
“Okay?” she asked.
“Okay.” I nodded. Maybe it would help somehow. “So, who are we meeting? I mean, who’s my appointment with, my therapist, or whatever?”
“Well, from what I understand, we meet with an intake clinician first to sign off on paperwork. After that, we have a meeting with the psychiatrist.”
“And who’s that?”
She plucked a card from her purse and read, “Dr. Daniel Tariq.”